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Fractal Implementation, or, On the Dangers of David Allen's Finger

BnugWiki : GtDBackToBasics

While doing some file pruning yesterday, I ran across a printout of a page I’d visited (and linked to, via del.icio.us) back in January.

In it, BigNosed UglyGuy throws down a sobering bitch-slap on the impulse to tinker endlessly with your GTD system—to try and catch yourself as you start into the inevitably fractal “Cycle of Implementation.” All the better, one hopes, to stop your meta-work before your head slips—completely efficiently, mind you—up your butt. Quoting:

  1. First, understand that the primary focus should always be the projects & tasks at hand, rather than the mechanics of the methodology.
  2. Scrap (or freeze for the time being at least) the extant implementation - trying to retro-engineer is just backward tweaking…
  3. Start again immediately with just tasks — a To Do list (minimal notes) and hard landscape stuff in Calendar…
  4. Only when the basics are working smoothly, start reintroducing the elements of one’s preferred implementation…

Yep. Brilliant, and right on.

This is my stake in the ground about GTD: if you can stay focused on drawing from its best practices to get more of the important things in your life accomplished, then you’ll be a happy kid. For real. But if, like a seeming majority of people I encounter these days, you allow yourself to obsess endlessly over the minutest details of implementation and maintenance—well, you’re screwed. You’re wasting your time.

Not to rely too heavily on the Zen parables here, but keep checking yourself: are you gazing at the moon, or just staring at David Allen’s finger?

Des Paroz's picture

I keep fighting the urge...

I keep fighting the urge to "improve" the system. I recently blogged about this at http://desparoz.typepad.com/onthego/2005/05/methodology_tec.html

Its a funny thing, but I think that there is a mindset that its easier to play with a system than to just do the stuff the system is prescribing.

Playing and experimentation is in itself a good thing - a very good thing. But it needs a time and place, and that time and place is when you've really bedded down the methodology, and are using it well.

Next Actions, Weekly Reviews, Waiting Fors and leakless collection habits are all things that need to be second nature before you've earned the right to tweak.

At the risk of using another martial arts metaphor, in the karate there is a concept of learning called Shu-Ha-Ri. The first stage, Shu, basically entails rote learning, without asking questions. Just do it the way that has been shown.

The second stage, Ha, entails personalising the system. Modifying it without changing the core principles to suit your individual strengths and weaknesses.

The third stage, Ri, is a natural progression where one develops their own "style within a style", deeply studying the core principles and modifying them where appropriate to suit your own process.

Shu-Ha-Ri is something that has no set timetable. It is observed, not driven. It happens naturally - when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. But in essence, it generally takes 5 years to move through the Shu stage into Ha, and then another 5 years or more to move through the Ha stage. Incidentally, this means that someone of early black belt level is generaly still in the Shu stage.

I wonder if David Allen's metaphor of black belt in GTD is coincidental - maybe his message is that people should learn and internalise the basics before getting too experimental. Thats a good thing, IMHO.




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